A comments culture to strive for…
Over the past month we’ve been getting an increasing number of complaints about the comments culture here at the League. These complaints are coming from regular commenters, readers who don’t comment at all, and League contributors. If I were to find a single heading that best described these complaints, it would be this: There is a growing tendency for people in the comment sections to take the single worst and most offensive interpretation of whatever anyone says, and to then use that interpretation as an excuse to be unnecessarily hostile, mean-spirited and off-topic.
While I have to say that vast majority of commenters and comments still reflect positively on the community as a whole, I must say that I (and the other editors) have noticed this trend as well. Indeed, sometimes when I spend time in the threads I worry that the League’s commenting culture could someday evolve into a smaller group of ever-more polarized people talking past one another.
There are a number of problems with this trend. First and foremost is that it seems to be keeping new readers who might otherwise wish to engage in topics from doing so. (When I have asked some of the very nice people who now comment on only the subs why they don’t throw in on the front page, the reason given is invariably that they don’t feel like being insulted for their trouble.) A big secondary concern is that it makes the threads both predictable boring, which is exactly the opposite of what they should be.
There are a gajillion politics/culture sites on the intertubes that cater to single focused belief systems; there are likewise a gajillion whose comments sections is populated by people that rely heavily on the ALL-CAPS. But politics/culture sites that strive to bring in writers and readers of different stripes to tussle over difficult topics with respect and good faith? Not so many. The League is a rare thing, and I think I speak for all of the editors and contributors alike when I say our commitment to being that type of enterprise is more important than any single commenter or contributor.
Consider this a call to show and assume good faith when engaging others here.
We will try to do a better job of stepping in when the commenting policy is being badly ignored, but the truth is we don’t actually monitor the comments all the time. And besides, we still believe the League works best when being run as laissez faire as possible. So having a healthy commenting culture will always rely on efforts of the commentariate. I’ll be the first to admit assuming good faith isn’t always easy; I doubt there’s anyone here that hasn’t said something they had to backtrack at least once here. When engaging others here, I ask everyone to keep a few simple things in mind:
- If you think a commenter’s position is something obscenely egregious and unlikely – (It sounds like he’s advocating kicking puppies for sport!) – try to get a clarification before going Rambo.
- If you find yourself so angry that you can’t see straight, step away from the keyboard for a moment.
- Address the points another commenter or contributor is making rather than simply hurling insults and profanities.
- Remember that people come here from different places, both geographically and metaphorically. Don’t assume the reason someone doesn’t see things the way you do is that they are stupid or dishonest.
- When in doubt, consult the great Burt Likko about the best ways to argue in good faith on the threads.
If you are being treated in an uncivil manner, please let us know; we’ll step in where we can. But if you are being treated in an uncivil manner primarily because you were being uncivil to others, recognize that we’re not going to spend too much time playing ref. Or to put it another way, I don’t really care to judge who has linked to the most accurate graph; I do care if commenters are telling one another to FOAD.
In the two years I’ve been here we’ve banned less than a half dozen commenters and unilaterally parted ways with just two of 30+ contributors. Despite people’s tealeaf readings of what those individual actions said about the de jour political leanings of the editors, I can tell you that it was people refusing to act in good faith and treat others here with respect that triggered each instance. We will continue to act with this filter.
So if you notice more warnings than usual over the next few weeks, now you know why.